The Victorian era introduced numerous Christmas customs to the world, including the illuminated and decorated tree, as well as holiday greeting cards. Another in particular stands tall, thanks to the pop-cultural reference borne from it: Scrooge. The Charles Dickens classic we all know so well, “A Christmas Carol,” takes us through the life of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge and his disdain for the holidays—or more appropriately for human kindness in general. It’s not until he’s visited by three ghosts—of his past, present and future—that he gains perspective on the importance of giving, gratitude and family.
The 1843 novella became an instant classic when released by a London publishing house, likely because its universal themes of someone moving out of despair and into light connects with so many. And, really, is there more of an appropriate holiday story than reading about the transformation a heart of stone into a heart of gold—or a heart of bronze, at best? Thalian Association will bring Dickens’ famed words to life over the next two weekends at Thalian Hall. David Loudermilk inherited the holiday show when he was hired over the summer as Thalian Association’s new artistic director.
“I believe this show is as familiar to us as putting up the Christmas tree,” Loudermilk says. “While it’s extremely dark, if you really think about it, when anyone says its title, you can’t help but smile and feel the holiday spirit—unless you are a Scrooge!”
Loudermilk enlisted the help of director Mike Thompson to pull off the classic with a cast of 61 people, consisting of adults, teenagers and kids. Playing the gruff man of the hour is Lance Howell, while Stuart Pike will play Scrooge’s former business partner, Jacob Marley.
“The chemistry betwen the two of them during the scene when Marley warns Scrooge of the impending visits from the three spirits is flawless,” Thompson reveals. “It’s really nice to see two actors feed off each other so well, and Lance has embodied every bit of Scrooge. I see him find something new in the character every night and that’s wonderful!”
Thalian Association received great turnout during auditions. Thompson says his casting was a no-brainer. Rounding out the main players are Marie Chonko as Ms. Dilber, Josh Bailey as Bob Cratchit, Jake Steward as Fred, and newcomer Mitchell Brewer as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
“Some newcomers to Thalian Association are simply blowing me away with the amount of work, character development and talent they contributed,” Thompson praises.
Though “A Christmas Carol” has seen numerous incarnations throughout the years—animated Disney specials, Bill Murray’s classic comedy, even the Muppets—Thompson has decided to stick to tradition in its presentation. Yet, he has taken some creative liberties as well.
“The story is there—the spirits, the timeline, the happy ending,” Thompson promises. “How we do it and get there is a unique take while staying classic. . . . I believe this approach to it is what will leave the audience in awe.”
Some music and choreography are apparent in the play, especially in street and party scenes. Loudermilk has choreographed it, while local actor Rasa Love has overseen 12 carolers. No stranger to directing musicals, as proven from his previous Thalian Association shows, like “9-to-5 the Musical,” “Willy Wonka” and “The Music Man,” Thompson has directed “A Christmas Carol” before, only featuring kids through Thalian Asssociation Children’s Theatre (TACT) program.
“Going into his production, I knew I wanted a large cast and that I also wanted to include some of the younger actors that I work with on a regular basis with TACT,” Thompson reveals. “I was also terrified because this is not a big musical. This is serious acting, and that is the only thing that moves the story forward.”
Essentially, no power ballads or dancing can cover up the talent. Thompson and Loudermilk remain impressed by the strength of acting the cast is delivering.
“No matter how well we know the story or how familiar you are with one particular adaptation, it’s exciting to watch these characters be brought to life and watch each person put their own take on characters that we are so familiar with,” Loudermilk adds.
“Our past doesn’t predict our future,” Thompson describes of the story’s impact. “I think sometimes in life people often feel that because of something in the past, they are doomed to go down a certain path in the future. And this story reminds people that only we are in control of our life and its outcome.”
A Christmas Carol
Thalian Hall • 310 Chestnut St.
12/11-21, Thurs.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.
Tickets: $15 on Thursdays; $30 otherwise